Saturday, 2 December 2017

Found By Love- Rahil Patel

I heard part of Rahil's story on UCB radio earlier this week so I downloaded the kindle book and began to read. If I'd seen Nicky Gumbel had endorsed it on the cover I wouldn't have bothered. Rahil writes well and I found myself following him on his journey from being in a moderate Hindu family to becoming a Swami and his quest for inner peace. All this was very gripping as he left his family at a young age to devote himself to following a guru in his journey not only for peace but for heaven itself.
There were slight warning signs for me though, every so often he would mention an experience he would have as a swami when he saw a cross or entered into a church. His positive experience of Rome was far removed from the experience of Martin Luther in his testimony.

The book turned into a disappointment when Rahil started going along to church, he went to Holy Trinity Brompton, I groaned inwardly but hoped for a powerful story of conviction of sin following by an understanding of the cross which would have a powerful affect upon this man and bring his troubled soul to rest- as the title suggests- to being found by the love of God.
Instead Rahil says he experienced acceptance, that a voice he often heard said, 'you;r home'. Rahil says nothing of how he encountered the life changing power of the Gospel, he just starts to identify as a Christian. As is typical of Charismatics he then isn't changed enough, there are unresolved issues that require more than salvation. He relates not only how he was 'filled with the Spirit' but how he experienced inner healing both in HTB and the controversial Bethel Church in California. I suppose this book is summed up in the "good advice" he receives, he was offered the opportunity of studying apologetics with RZIM but is offered the advice to ''keep receiving his love, and develop a relationship until it becomes a lifestyle, and then maybe a deep study of the Bible would be better". The worst advice he could be given, rather than the opportunity to grow in his new faith- or to learn that he hasn't yet crossed the threshold and experienced the new birth,  turning down the opportunity to study but the same person gives him the "opportunity" to go to Bethel. Setting him off on a journey chasing after experience after experience without the tools to discern if they are valid or not.

I don't know if Rahil is converted or not, there isn't enough to go on from this testimony. I pray that if he isn't he will be and that instead of chasing after experience after experience he will be impacted and transformed by the Spirit through the Word of God.

May God extend His Grace to you.

Stephen <><

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Martin Luther's Open Gates of Heaven- Reformation 500


Today is the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. Very quickly from a simple act of placing a document on a door, written in Latin wanting  a scholar debate, Luther accidently started a movement that was both a revival and a reformation not just in his native Germany but right across the North of Europe.
 
Luther writes this of his own conversion:
'I greatly longed to understand Paul's Epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression "the justice of God" because I took it to mean that justice whereby God is just and deals justly in punishing the unjust. My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage him. Therefore, I did not love a just and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against him. Yet I clung to the dear Paul and had a great yearning to know what he meant.
 
Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that "the just shall live by his faith." Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sincere mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into Paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning. Whereas before "the justice of God" had filled me with hate, now it became inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven.'
 
Taken from Here I Stand- Roland Bainton (emphasis mine).

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Why read the Puritans?

Joel Beeke and Randall J. Pederson in their introduction to Meet the Puritans argue that we should read the Puritans because :
They shape life by Scripture, They loved, lived and breathed Scripture, relishing the power of the Spirit that accompanied the Word. They called believers to be Word centred.

'If you read the Puritans regularly, their focus on Scripture becomes contagious. Though their commentaries on Scripture are not the last word in exegesis, the Puritans show how to yield whole hearted allegiance to the Bible's message. Like them you will become a believer of the living Book' p.xx Meet the Puritans.

Another reason is they focused on Christ, they 'loved Christ and wrote much about His beauty.' p. xxii I've certainly experienced that reading John Flavel.


It's certainly worth the experience of reading them and praying that God would give us a similar experience of His Word and of exalting Jesus.


Sunday, 15 October 2017

What Did the Reformers do for us?

The following is based on Joel Beeke's talk at Reformation Scotland.

There is a mysterious power in the word of God, like an acorn, containing all the information to build a mighty oak tree, when God unleashes the power of His word, He transforms people.

How did the reformation change the world. What areas are still felt today.


10 ways the reformation bore fruit.



1)      The Word of God- The Bible as God’s word for every aspect of life.

The Bible changed Europe in 5 ways, authority- all other authority, ecclesiastical, political and papal must submit to the Word of God, contrary to  the Church of Rome, the reformers held that the church was under the authority of the Word.

1 The Bible available in the language of the people, the work of translation at the time of the reformation was revolutionary. We just see it as normal because we are children of the reformation.

2 infallibility and inerrancy- every part of every word is the living word of God. Jesus argued the point over a tense for example at one point. (I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob- showing life after death by a present tense).

3 The reformers brought in  the idea of self authentication, scripture is the best interpreter of scripture. Not allegory or tradition but the Word itself.

4 liberation, the Reformers liberated the Bible by translation, the word be taught by expository preaching. Zwingli started preaching in the New Testament book of Matthew chapter 1 and just carried on, it was revolutionary but we are beneficiaries of the reformation. Straightforward understanding of the Bible, without imposing on it.

5 Power- the scriptures given to transform our mind, only one book can transform and conform us to the mind of God, the Bible.

The reformers encouraged everyone to not only read it but to study the Bible. In family worship the father is called to expound the scriptures.  We might see this as normal but this is because we are children of the reformation.


2)      The reformers recovered the Gospel of grace- they uncovered it from a false one. It’s by Grace Alone. In the Roman  Catholic understanding according to Thomas Aquinas sanctification came before grace and before justification do your best and God would do the rest. The reformers said, you cannot do one single thing.

God’s way of salvation is a glorious substitute for the false gospel of Rome. Luther experienced this when he was whipping himself, sleeping on cold concrete- until he found grace, found that he  had an open heaven, for him the gates of heaven were open.

Luther saw justification as the first thing and sanctification is the fruit of it and it is all of grace.

Grace calls us, justifies us, sanctifies us, and will glorify us.

Do you live by grace, is grace everything to you. Grace is more than what we think, because we do not start as neutral grace is undeserved kindness to those who deserve to be hell bound. It’s all of grace.

3)      Experiential Piety- The Reformers preached a piety that can be experienced. The Fatherly sovereignty of God to His people in the Lord Jesus Christ.



4)      Old paths- persevered the faith of the Reformers was the faith of  primitive Christianity. They recovered the truths from the early days of the church. These old paths of the father’s is worth us pursuing. The reformation principle of sola scriptura doesn’t mean you throw away church history but we examine church history/tradition by scripture.



5)      Christ as king- all done in subjection not to man but to God and His word. The reformers found themselves at odds with the Pope, the Pope had asserted authority, the kings asserted authority in their locality. The reformers said they were both wrong, not the Papacy and not the secular rulers. The Church was delivered from the State and the Pope.



We need to walk the tightrope avoiding anarchy as God calls us to honour authority, so we need to cultivate a heart of submission.

Yet we must be willing to oppose them when they oppose God. Christ is the head of the church.



6)      Christian freedom- the gospel of Christ freed us from tyranny, the reformed faith abolished the idea of the divine right of kings. No-one but God had power over the conscience but God alone. Kingship was changed to constitutional rather than absolute. To free the church from the state and towards freedom and democracy and gave us the rule of law.

7)      Vocations for the common good- the reformers recast the state as a commonwealth promoting the dignity of labour, encouraging trade and the growth of wealth for everyone. Everyone should thrive together, everyone has a stake in the life of the nation. This binds together the State as a commonwealth, everyone must do their work to the glory of God. It does away with the line between the secular and the sacred. All 7 days are from the LORD.

Everyone working for the good and salvation of his neighbour, this encouraged social cohesion, and care.

8)      Marry and child rearing- marriage as a reflection of the Christ/church relationship. Parents raising their children who are loaned to them from God. Seeking God’s face, the whole concept of the Christian home was developed by the reformers and the Puritans.  All of life must be lived for the glory of God. William Gough, 'You could have the most homely, cranky wife but you are to treat her like a godly queen.' Marriage is designed to encourage us in holiness and service.

9)      Arts and sciences, the reformers rekindled the spirit of enquiry by exploring knowledge, opening academies, fostered the idea of universal education. Encouraging art, science, architecture  astronomy, exploration.

10)   The true worship of God- they understood that worship was at the centre, they came to the Word to see how we should worship. To bow down before the supreme majesty through Christ in the Spirit, and we are to have as our goal worshipping God in every aspect in our lives. To give to Him the honour that is due to His holy name.

Soli Deo Gloria.











Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Puritan Preaching

I'm enjoying attending my first conference since the girls were born, The Puritan Reformed Fellowship in East Kilbride where we are being treated to Joel Beeke's passionate wisdom and knowledge of the Puritans. I avoided the Puritans like the plague until fairly recently as the ones I had read seemed too wordy and cold. I just started in the wrong place it seems, I am loving reading the Puritans now on a daily basis.  Dr Beeke has unwrapped the Puritans for us in two talks so far. One of these on the topic of Puritan Preaching. Below is a summary:

The Puritans loved preached, their books are basically sermons and they were in print for a long time because people loved their preaching. They developed plans for preaching, the whole counsel of God. Their sermons were rich in exegesis, doctrine, devotion and application and in experience, they preached an experienced Christ. They sought to reform the church with their preaching, they failed. They did however succeed to transform people through their preaching. In fact people would flock to hear them, leaving standing room only.
Puritan books were loved and well read, because they preached Christocentric sermons stripping away man in his sinfulness. For the Puritan there was two preachers, the preacher and the Holy Spirit. Puritan preaching lifts our eyes to see Christ, it ravishes the soul, focuses the sight on eternal realities both heaven and hell.

The believed that the preached Word was God's usual means to convert people, where every sermon was dressed in the mirror of Scripture. Richard Sibbes said the second greatest gift that God has given the church after the Spirit of God is a sound minister. For them the pulpit was at the centre of the church because it was from there that God feed His people for the whole week.

Yet their aim was please God, not the audience, those they were concerned with the weight and preciousness of souls they aimed more than anything to please God and to preach for His glory.

At it's best they desired to labour to awaken their own souls before seeking to awaken other souls.

In preaching they aimed to: 1) Address the mind with clarity, 2) confront the conscience-pressing home the guilt of sins, 3) woo the heart passionately- zealous and optimistically urging people to be reconciled with a God would seeks you as a spouse to marry you to Christ. 4) A plainness in preaching to be clear.

Their method was to be both idealist like Romans 8, realistic like Romans 7 and optimistic like Revelation 21. He said they preached as though they could save people, but 'preached like they were knocking the door, knowing that only the Holy Spirit has the key'.

Dr Beeke showed us that the Puritans were great preachers but then encouraged us not to preach like them in some ways.

Don't preach like them 

Don't preach doctrinal sermons, preach a text and expound it.
Don't multiple points on points at lots of levels- we live in a different age keep it simple.
Don't overwhelm with application
Don't preach too many sermons on one text

Do Preach like them
Do preach  doctrinal rich experiential sermons with application
Do Burrow down deep into the doctrine of the text
Do Preach the whole counsel of God over time.
Do Preach in a style that everyone can understand.
Do live a consistent life, preach with your life. Our whole life should be a sermon.
Love your people.


They were known not only for their preaching though but also for their piety, their lives affected by the preparation for preaching gave them a love for people. It is said that many of them died in the great plague because they loved their people deeply and didn't abandon them.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

God's providence with the despised things- from Stephen Charnock

God so delights in thus baffling the pride of men, that Asa uses it as an argument to move God to deliver him in the strait he was in, when Zerah the Ethiopian came against him with a great multitude, when he was but a small point and centre in the midst of a wide circumference: 2 Chron. 14.11, 'Lord it is nothing with thee to help with many or with few.' Herby God sets off his own power, and evidenceth his superintendent care of his people. It was more signally the arm of God for Moses to confound Pharaoh with his lice and frogs, than if he had beaten him in a plain field with his six hundred thousand Israelites.

In the salvation of the soul. Our Saviour himself, though God, the great redeemer of the world, was so mean in the eyes of the world that he called himself  'a worm, and no man,'Ps 22.6, He picks out many times the most unlikely persons to accomplish the greatest purposes for men's souls .He lodgeth the treasures of wisdom in vessels of earth; he chose not the cedars of Lebanon, but the shrubs of the valley; not the learned Pharisees of Jerusalem, but the poor men of Galilee: 'Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings, he has ordained praise to himself.'

The apostles' breeding was not capable of ennobling their minds, and fitting them for such great actions as Christ employed them in. But after he had new moulded them and inflamed their spirits, he made them of fishermen, greater conquerors of the world, than the most magnified grandees could pretend to.
Thus salvation is wrought by a crucified Christ: and that God who made the world by wisdom, would save it by the foolishness of preaching. And make Paul, the least of the apostles as he terms himself, more successful than those had been instructed at the feet of Christ. Works, volume 1 page 21,22

Friday, 22 September 2017

The Reformation then and today


It's almost 500 years since Martin Luther nailed his thesis to the door in Wittenburg which began the process of reformation. The advantage of his reformation over the Wycliffe one, or the Huss one was the invention of the printing press.  Within two weeks the whole of Northern Europe had printed copies of Luther's protest. Thus began the necessary break from the Roman Church. 

However the Roman Church in 1517 was very different than the Roman Catholic Church of today.
Over the last week I have been at two different churches, from two different denominations where both speakers have spoken approvingly of the relationship between themselves and the Roman Church, both affirming that the Roman Catholic Church has changed. 
It has changed in 1517 it hadn't approved the Immaculate Conception and sinlessness of Mary, this didn't come until the C19th. In the same Century the Roman Catholic Church dogmatically asserted Papal Authority. More than these though it wasn't until the Counter Reformation that the Catholic Church anathematised Sola Fide and in many respects placed an anathema on the Catholic System itself.  This is from the Counter Reformation:

CANON 9:  "If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.

As Martin Luther rightly said, the Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone is the Doctrine by which a Church stands or falls.

It's seems Protestants have also changed, at the Reformation, Ad fontes was important- 2back to the sources" was one of the cries- back to the text of scripture, what does the Bible say. Martin Luther again said, 'unless I am convinced by scripture and sound reason- I do not accept the authority of the Popes or councils for they have contradicted each other, my conscience remains captive to the word of God.'

However at one of these meetings a speaker informed the gathering that Catholics and Protestants agree because they share a common experience in the Charismatic renewal, which has affected both Protestants and Catholics despite the vast difference in doctrine held by them both. It seems that now experience validates experience rather than being tested by the Scriptures themselves. As well as that the Catholic Church has changed because Catholics embrace the Alpha Course. However if you read Chris Hand's Alpha course, Falling Short or examined the material for you will find that rather than Alpha being a Protestant course it is very ambiguous on Sola Fide, presenting Justification as a work of Faith. Of course Rome is ok with that, but add the word Alone and then there is an issue. 


One of the big differences between Rome and Evangelicals centres around their different understanding of how one is saved. Evangelicals affirm that the way to heaven is only through Christ's atoning sacrifice, when the sinner repents of their sins, like the thief on the cross they are assured that 'you will be with me in paradise'. Rome however has several steps, baptismal regeneration, extreme unction and even then purgatory maybe for eons and eons, to complete the work of atonement for that one person, the work of the Cross is not enough. Jesus' cry from the Cross, it is accomplished is done away as works are added to the completed work of Christ.

If we don't agree on the Gospel we cannot have a relationship where we treat them as fellow believers. The Reformation was necessary and in many ways is still necessary.

Shalom
Stephen <><


Friday, 8 September 2017

How amazing is Grace- a short article I wrote for a local magazine.

How amazing is Grace?

If you only know one Hymn I would guess that it would be Amazing Grace, so much so that you’ll know the words. ‘Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me’.  I wonder do you know anything of the author and that it is in many ways his autobiography?  It may not sound like an autobiography when you know that he was a vicar and worked to end the slave trade in his latter years. However Newton’s early life was a long way from where it ended, he was the son of a successful and well connected ship’s captain. His mother a godly woman gave Newton a good education but died when he was 7 years old. He rebelled against this teaching from his pious mother, his well connected father got Newton a job as a midship-man, a junior officer with the promise of promotion. However Newton who had disregarded the education his mother had given him, disregarded the Faith she held  also disregarded this opportunity his father had found for him. He was disrespectful and up to no good from the beginning.  His behaviour was so bad that he found himself demoted before leaving the ship altogether. Nonetheless opportunities kept coming his way but Newton wasn’t able to learn from them. His behaviour and poor choices got this well to do officer’s son into a lot of scrapes. At one point he was almost a slave in North Africa, mistreated and poorly fed; he was stealing raw vegetables at night to keep himself alive. At times he modified his behaviour becoming outwardly religious, but he soon went back to his cursing, blaspheming and general bad behaviour. Each time the downward spiral after made him worse than he was before.  His language was so bad that he often made other roguish sailors blush.
Newton at this time would be the last person you would think of as someone who would be a Christian minister; he was a vile excuse for a human being. He recognised this in himself as did others. He truly was a wretch and he knew it.
‘Through many dangers’ Newton diced with death  on a regular basis  on one occasion following a drinking game out at sea.  He had to be pulled by the legs as he went overboard, it was dark, he was drunk and he couldn’t swim. Literally rescued by the seat of his pants.

This wayward young man he rarely gave a second thought to his soul was given amazing opportunity; On one occasion you see the ship was battered in a storm, so much so that it was sinking. For several days he and the sailors tried to rescue it by bailing out water but it was taking on more and more water, the situation seemed hopeless, the holes were filled with their clothing and the food had almost all been washed away. Everyone on board was convinced that they were only putting off the inevitable, mere days away from death. It was at this point Newton began to contemplating his lifestyle and his sin and this led to Newtown the wretch cried out to God for mercy. He said that he was not sure that someone like him would have any hope of finding mercy with God.  Yet Newton did find mercy, he no longer had to try to reform his life and fail as he had done numerous times before, now the work of God had begun in his life, Newton was transformed.
Like Newton, Saul of Tarsus wasn’t thinking of finding grace on the road to Damascus, as he headed over to Syria the last thing on his mind was becoming a follower of Jesus. In fact he was heading there with the same sort of Ambitions that young Jihadists head to Syria today, he wanted to kill for his God. He was set on wiping out the church, on that road you’ll know he was confronted by the risen Jesus, instead of the judgement that he now knew he deserved he was called to be Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, to reach out and share with them the Good news of Jesus, Newton and Paul were both trophies of Grace. Paul said of himself that he was the chief of sinners, yet God saved him. God used the conversion of Saul the persecutor of the church to glorify Himself.

You might be one of those people who have said, ‘I am beyond saving’, yet God could take Newton, who truly was a wretch, and Saul who wanted to wipe out the church and bring them to Him. You might be one of those people who have said, ‘I am beyond saving’, yet God could take Newton, who truly was a wretch, and Saul who wanted to wipe out the church and bring them to Him. You see grace means undeserved kindness, the grace of this God is not only amazing it is glorious. 

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Unbelievable- Justin Brierley

I love the unbelievable radio show on Premier Christian Radio show so I have been looking forward to reading Justin's book. Justin hosts the show and acts as moderator either between a Christian and a non-Christian or a inter Christian debate (often I disagree that it is an inter Christian debate but that's another story) . In this book Justin reflects on the 10 years of the show and why he is still a Christian after having some of the best arguments for atheism thrown at him.

Justin always comes across as winsome and a genuinely nice guy trying to be fair to both sides. 
I've listened to the show for a long time and in the book he reflects on various discussions and I remember the episode it's like we are reminiscing together.  If that was all there was to this book I'd love it, yet this is a book that also claims to be an apologetics book. It is to some extent but as it covers such a large area it's just bite size apologetics, not getting into the nitty gritty.

Justin is (now) an Anglican married to a vicar, so for me as a complimentarian and a non conformist you can see we have a different understand of the authority of Scripture and a different eccelesiology (understand of the church). As in this book his moderator's hat is off we get to see his own views, I was disappointed to see him defend annilationism, although the show has had a few inter-christian dialogue conversations on this issue, so I did wonder if it reflected his own views. Annilationism might have been the view of John Stott a leading British Evangelical of the C20th but it is still on the fringes as a belief and certainly not an evangelical belief. Justin said that 'he felt there is more support in scripture for this view. I have to disagree, the biblical position is for conscious eternal punishment, however much that idea repulses us it is the one presented. We perhaps have a different understand of the importance of the Holiness of God and the seriousness of sin.

This also comes out in Justin's theodicy chapter, he presents an argument that appeared on the show, how a mom came to terms with the death of her child by seeing God involved in a war and sometimes He loses the battle. He rightly points out that this argument isn't very popular with reformed people, well of course it isn't. The argument that God is either not all powerful or not all good, common in theodicies is an emotive one. I like that Revelation ends with God wiping away all the tears, all the sorrow and death being defeated that ends this broken stage we live on. I take comfort in a God who is all powerful and all loving knowing that a day is coming when He will right all wrongs.

As an apologetic book Unbelievable didn't work for me as Justin covered too much ground in a short space of time. I'm glad I've read it and I am thankful for the show.


God Bless
Stephen Barton 

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Gospel Fluency -Jeff Vanderstelt

I received this ebook from Crossway to review; I do not have to give a positive review.

Highlights

Jeff is honest, sharing problems that he had in his own life where he would find that he needed to speak the Gospel into his own life, both as a young man and as a young pastor, that's appealing.
He also shared a story about a disconnect in his own wife's heart and head towards the Gospel, its a very moving yet sensitive story- hopefully he got her permission to share, although I am sure he did. 

Show and Tell, in this section he talked about Displaying the Gospel, if this section was earlier in the book I might have been worried that it was ‘always share the gospel sometimes use words’, but coming towards the close it was clear where this section was going yet also proved the point how slow we are to get it. Vanderstelt says we should be different in living out the gospel as a metaphor, redeemed, rescued, advocate etc.  He tells us he shared this concept in a church and a lady came up after and said how her cul-de-sac was such that no-one spoke to each other and she and her husband spoke to everyone including the man who no-one liked. After hearing Vanderstelt share on Displaying the Gospel and our needing then to share the Gospel she came up to him and said when she has been asked why she was kind to the grumpy old man she said, “it doesn’t take much to be kind” this was a twist I didn’t see coming.  She didn’t get it, he shocked me I thought she was going to give her testimony of how she ‘displayed the gospel and then shared the gospel’.  This for me proved the necessity of another book on this vital subject. It was also a highlight of the book that where I found it predictable in places there were some definite curve balls.
I liked that he was honest, he shares about a friend of his who wasn’t a believer but comes along to the group. He mentioned her again, and still not a believer. I like that, because in spite of the title of the book he isn’t trying to sell us a brand, or a formula he is trying to get us to love Jesus and through that love be able and willing to share it.
What I really like about this book is that it is centred on how to live out the Gospel in our daily lives. Whilst there are quite a few books out there on this type of subject the narrative sections reveal that it is often the case that many people in churches, and many churches don’t get this, even evangelical churches. The Gospel is as much for Christians as it is for non-Christians.

Lowlights


It took me awhile to get into this book, the title was a bit gimmicky and even though I liked where he was going I struggled with Vanderstelt’s trying to sell what I believe to be biblical Christianity as ‘Gospel Fluency’. Also in places it was a bit repetitive but I suppose if something is worth saying once its worthy saying again and it definitely is worth saying . The book is aimed at an American audience and I wondered how some of the ideas he suggests for within a group setting would pan out in a home group in the UK. 

Conclusion

If you're not filled with a desire to live with the Gospel as the centre of all you do, or if you are but are wondering how to impact people around you with the Good News of Jesus this book might be a big help.

God Bless
Stephen 

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

On the Brink

I am in eternity — and you are on the brink!

Passing through a country graveyard the other day, an inscription on a head-stone struck my eye. The stone was by the side of the path, where everyone could see it, and it was placed there in memory of a young man who died at the age of seventeen. It was —
   "Reader, one moment,
    Stop, and think:
    That I am in eternity!
    And you are on the brink!"
In eternity! A young man, only seventeen years of age, in eternity!
In a fixed, a changeless, an eternal state!
In Heaven — or in Hell!
Saved with an everlasting salvation — or damned forever!
If it should be the latter — what a fearful supposition! And yet many have gone to Hell — before they have been seventeen years of age!
"I am in eternity — and you are on the brink!" Yes, though you may be young, apparently healthy, full of life and vigor — you are on the brink of eternity! A slight accident, or a few days illness — and you are in eternity! What a solemn thought!
What will eternity be to you?
Where will you be in eternity?
Are your sins pardoned?
Are you reconciled to God by the death of His Son?
Are you sanctified by the Holy Spirit — and thus made fit for Heaven?
If not, remember that in Hell, there is . . .
  no gospel,
  no means of grace,
  no way of escape from the wrath of God!
Once there — and your doom is fixed forever!
Think, O think . . .
  Of the dreadful consequences of dying in your sins!
  Of going down to the grave in an unconverted state!
  Of dying under the curse of God!
"Behold, now is the accepted time!
 Behold, now is the day of salvation!"

  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~

Reader! The above was written over 150 years ago.
All who then read this little piece — are now in eternity! 
All who now read this little piece — are on the brink!
   "Reader, one moment,
    Stop, and think:
    That I am in eternity!
    And you are on the brink.

James Smith, predecessor of Spurgeon. Taken from Grace Gems. 

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Sam Allberry, RZIM on Transgender

It was a privilege to be present to hear Sam Allberry from RZIM ministries on Transgender at Smithton Free this evening. Sam is a Christian pastor from Berkshire , England who has a same sex attraction. He works for RZIM and remains a Parish minister who  has to respond to difficult questions from  hurting people as part of his pastoral ministry. 

He described Gender Dysphoria as; when someone's mind is convinced that their gender is different to their God given identity in their body. Its a much bigger issue now than it was 10 years ago, the BBC website carries a story on transgender on a daily basis. In the West it seems to be a matter of social justice, 'who do we think we are not to accept how someone identifies themselves' increasingly it is a matter Christians will have to deal with. 

There is a false response/ things to avoid.

1) ignorance- we cannot ignore the issue it is becoming more widespread we need to ask ourselves are we ready and willing to engage the issue and more importantly the people.
2) Mock it, we can't react like that our response as Christians is to come alongside.
3) Outrage- culture war/them v us- or to condemn it outright- we are called to love. 
4) Panic- Jesus is still LORD and the Gospel is still good news.

Then how do we respond with the Gospel? 

There are at least three areas where we as Christians should have a unique understanding.

1) We have a unique understanding of Human brokenness, we know that the creation is fallen because of the fall. No-one has an entirely straight forward view of their own body. Also we are all out of sync, with God, with each other and even with ourselves.We know that life since the fall is messy and painful and we of all people should be able to talk about messiness.We of all people should be compassionate.

2) Identity, our Christian worldview tells us that are confused, that the noetic effects of the fall means that our thinking is dark and futile. Not just transgender people, all of us are confused. We don't know ourselves well enough, it is only as we know God and He reveals who we are that we can see anything of our real selves, Sam made a very interesting point for our culture, A girl in his congregation suffers with anorexia, she is painfully thin but her mind tells us that she is obese. It would not be loving to tell her that if you think like that it must be true'. 

3) We have a unique hope- We all have problems we see in our bodies, pain for example we must realise though that the issues we have with our bodies will not be solved by them. Indeed most gender reassignments do not bring lasting satisfaction. This is merely the groaning of our bodies because they are in need of redemption. If you are hoping that your body will bring you fulfillment you are heading for disappointments 
Our only hope of wholeness lies in the broken body of Jesus. There has never been a greater body dysphoria than the one in Jesus on the cross when the One without Sin became Sin for us. 

Sam also said during the Q and A time, 'Our first responsibility when we are confronted with someone's brokenness that is not our own is to listen really, really well. 

I am thankful for Sam's ministry to reach out with the Gospel as a broken person to broken people.

God Bless
Stephen 


Sunday, 26 February 2017

The SBC and the 21st Century

I should begin by admitting two things, firstly I got this book for free from B and H academics, I don't have to give a positive review. Secondly, I got this by mistake I thought it was a book about Southern Seminary. The picture on the cover looked to be like Southern, I was initially somewhat disappointed, especially when  I started reading Thom Rainer's chapter dealing with statistics about parts of the Southern Baptist Church that I had never heard of. Yet even in this chapter Rainer hits home hard, 'While programmatic evangelism may have lost its luster in our churches, we must find ways for our members to be intentionally involved in sharing their faith in today's culture'. This isn't just an issue in the SBC or even in the wider American evangelical culture, it seems it is a western problem. As Baptists we often argue for the priesthood of all believers but then expect the minister to do the work for us. 

My father in law loves Billy Graham and people of that generation, I found the history of how Billy Graham was involved in Al Mohler's call to Southern encouraging. In a similar way I was surprised to find Carl Henry being a driving force in getting Mark Dever to Capitol Hill Baptist Church. Two ministries I have been greatly blessed by, it is true that one generation commends the work

David Platt's chapter on mission was passionate and heart warming, reminding us that 'mission must not be our life. Instead, Christ must be our life and missions must be the overflow of lives that exist to exalt him'. He goes on to say with the same passion that the call to mission isn't for the select few it is for every Christian, it isn't an extra option but a command that must be obeyed. However this flows out of a heart that is devoted to Christ. Again this isn't just an issue for the Southern Baptists but for every denomination we are far to comfortable with our vast resources that God has given us to fuel mission rather than keep buying stuff. A big challenge! 

As a non American,  I have heard of the SBC for years and as a Baptist it's always been interesting to hear about this large Baptist denomination. This interest has grown as my in laws are part of a SBC church and I've gotten to preach in one, albeit in the basement.

This book is well worth a read for anyone interested in the history, present and future direction of this great denomination.


God Bless
Stephen

Monday, 20 February 2017

John Flavel- favourite Puritan

Reading John Flavel this morning, it isn't for nothing that he is my favourite Puritan:

'Mercy runs nimbly to help, when souls are ready to fall under the pressure of sin'

'Grace never appears Grace until sin appears to be sin'

'Christ is not sweet till sin be made bitter'

'If once God wounds the heart of a sinner, with the stinging sense of sin, then nothing in the world is so precious, so necessary, so vehemently desired and panted for as Christ Jesus'

All in just one page of John Flavel, Method of Grace sermon 9.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Engaging and faithful

I'm not long back from a men's breakfast and it set me thinking, I knew of the speaker, he is from the local Charismatic church. I didn't know he was the speaker or I probably wouldn't have gone. He stuck to type, he quoted some sociological study, a Franciscan monk  and a couple of quotes from the Bible. He didn't have an open bible or expound any passage.  He reminded me of a quote from John Stott in his Contemporary Christian book, that some churches try to be relevant but they never open their bible's so are not actually relevant. Stott rightly though points out the reverse is also true, there are churches where the word is opened but not applied so they are faithful. I left with the challenge that I think about often, how to be confessional, or if you prefer biblical faithful and yet engaging. I desire in my preaching to be bang up to date culturally and  faithful to the Word. I suppose Stott again is helpful in this in his lecture on crossing the bridge from the world of the Bible to our world it's easier said than done though.

Seeking to be faithful and relevant


God Bless

Stephen

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Keeping The Name Evangelical

I've heard a few presentations recently where the speaker has suggested the term Evangelical is redundant as a word because it has lost all meaning. I understand that, in many ways I agree with it as its used to speak of charismatics who are in no sense evangelical in their theology but are united by a common experience with continuatists/charismatics who are. Similarly it can be used in the media to refer to church going people who like modern music. Most worrying for me is people like Steve Chalke who have abandoned an evangelical understanding of the Atonement, Scripture and Christian Ethics but want to keep the name Evangelical because they see themselves as "good news people".
So why do I want to keep the term?
 
Part of the reason is something similar to what a Church of England vicar said when I asked him how he could remain in the CofE, his reply was, well its our church, the creeds are ours not the liberals.
So similarly I want to keep the term because it truly applies to me rather than to the people it is misapplied too.
 
More importantly, its a biblical word, the word Gospel is an English word but the Greek word euangelion and its various forms point to the word evangelical, it sums up for me the message of Jesus which is the good message that evangelicals love.
It has historical precedence, it was a term used in derision of the first Protestants, the Lutherans. It speaks of their good message of faith without works through the saving work of Jesus in contradistinction to the Roman Catholic understanding that salvation is through Christ, a works righteousness and the words/ceremonies/church of Roman and the extra grace of the Saints.
Of course in the UK the word has been used in a variety of ways, in the C18th it was used of Anglicans whose theology was like the Whitefield's and the Wesleys. Only later applying to those with the belief in the New Birth and who held to a high view of Scripture. The term has been used slightly different in the UK than in the US but there is no some crossover.
 
However if I/we are going to keep the term as it has stretched beyond meaning we probably need to add words to it, I use conservative evangelical.
 
God Bless
Stephen <><

Sunday, 1 January 2017

The Challies Challenge

Last year a number of my friends took Tim Challies challenge to read either 50 or 100 books in a year. I knew I couldn't do 100 so I aimed at 50 which I changed to 52 but reached 55. I learn't some important stuff about myself, I often quote C S Lewis about reading books from previous centuries but found that I read mainly living Americans, predominately Gospel Coalition or T4G types (I realise that is really only one type). Very little British stuff and very little things from previous centuries. I decided that as soon as I hit my target I would go back to reading bigger books and so in the middle of November I started reading Andrew Fuller's works, its the bigger book I own. This year I am aiming a lot lower, a few books from previous centuries and a couple of commentaries. 

My top 5 books this year:

1) John Flavel Works volume 1- loved this as each sermon is focused on Christ, its saturated. Currently on volume 2.
2) Dangerous Calling - Paul Tripp- I had to keep putting this book down to pray- that's got to me a good thing,surely. He beat me up a lot and I loved it.
3) Thomas Schreiner's The King in His Beauty- a truly biblical theology that concentrated on one theme throughout. I like his writing but wanted him to go deeper, I shall definitely try his commentaries. 
4) Fool's talk by Os Guiness- a young girl invented a word that summed this up- thinkative, some great quotes in there but he just stretched my mind. Never read him before but I shall be reading him again.
5) Centre Church, Tim Keller started the year with this and loved it, Keller always approaches something with a different slant, challenged my thinking and my theology, helped my preaching and increased my desire to do ministry in either a council estate or a large city. 

Shalom
Stephen Barton <><